Pipilotti Rist, I Packed the Postcard in My Suitcase, The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, December 21 – March 4 2012
“One can feel a nostalgia for places one has never seen”.
The Pipilotti Rist exhibition at The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art starts in a dark red room. Its minimal furnishings of video installations projected onto a table (Upside Down Table) and a framed oil painting (Small Laguna) make it feel homely. The table is a backdrop for images leaking from the lampshade above: a muddied field of apples, a model world bedecked with candles, cosmic scenes. Being drawn in by this vivid, oneiric stream is like tumbling down a rabbit-hole: tipping sense on its head, for a little while, setting the senses free.
Turning the corner opens onto a large space occupied by Gravity Be My Friend. The third part of a trilogy, these videos end a mythological cycle in which a girl moves from Eden (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) through civilization (A Liberty Statue for London) to a space beyond reality: a kind of utopian dream. Gravity is projected onto two blob-like screens on the ceiling and we are invited to immerse ourselves in Rist’s world by lying on oozing platforms to view them. Guided by the swelling ambience of the installation’s soundtrack, settling into these islands feels like drifting off to sleep. The experience is isolating, saturating us in the rhythms of colour and movement on the screens.
The video’s dayglo colours pulse with computer-aided surreality. A girl walks along a waterfront as the camera swings around her body, or lets too-bright red balls shower from a tree. Suddenly she turns a somersault in a stream - her world always spinning, an iridescent reverie. Like visions, Rist’s sequences strike us as if from no place we’ve ever seen. Except, maybe, in shared hallucinations of places that never existed, Technicolour landscapes of water and sun as vast and exciting as summer itself. Place idealised – ou-topos, no place, Utopia. And yet, Utopia is another way of saying place without time, a cipher for place outside of history. Like a false nostalgia for a place that never was. To isolate ourselves with Rist’s work, we have to sidestep history’s forward movement. We have to free ourselves from its reality – its gravity – by falling out of time itself, away from bonds like community. Allowing ourselves to be beguiled by nostalgia is one way of experiencing this isolation.
Rist’s work strikes us in volleys of intensities: bursts of colour in our own private night sky. The feelings it evokes include wonderment, which is another way of expressing stupefying freedom. Isolated by our engagement with her installations, we are freed from the necessity of history and so freed to indulge in sensuality. Yet, this feeling is only ever temporary. History has a way of obtruding on our isolation to tug us back to reality. As I wander away from Gravity, I’m struck by a sudden ambivalent feeling: the impression Rist’s work leaves on my senses receding before the now-so-present weight of normality. Maybe that’s what this isolation helps us see: the value of speculation that eludes the pressures of reality, if only for a fleeting moment.
1) Greta Garbo in Queen Christina dir. Rouben Mamoulian  (warner Home Video, 2005). DVD.
Scott Wark is an emerging writer based in Melbourne. He is completing an MA on the relationship between literature and technology at The University of Melbourne.